Frozen River (2008)

Frozen River
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Strong themes

Director: Courtney Hunt
Actors: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Michael O'Keefe, Charlie Mcdermott, Mark Boone Junior

Frozen River is the story of Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), an upstate New York trailer mum who is lured into the world of illegal immigrant smuggling when she meets a Mohawk girl who lives on a reservation that straddles the US-Canadian border. Broke after her husband takes off, Ray reluctantly teams up with Lila (Misty Upham), a smuggler, and the two begin making runs across the frozen St Lawrence River carrying illegal Chinese and Pakistani immigrants in the trunk of Ray's Dodge Spirit.

DVD
Status: QuickPick
Run time: 97mins
Origin: UNITED STATES
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Misery business
by Simon Miraudo,

At this year’s Oscar ceremony, there was a name you may not have recognised amongst the prestigious Best Actress nominees. Of course, everyone knows the likes of Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep. But who was that other lady? You know, the un-famous one? Well, that would have been Frozen River star Melissa Leo; a veteran character actress finally hitting the big time. Starring as a no-nonsense poverty stricken single-mother, Leo became the breakout indie starlet of 2008. Writer/director Courtney Hunt also picked up a Best Original Screenplay nomination for her troubles. But did this little known Sundance winner deserve its accolades, or did it simply ride the Academy’s recent obsession with smaller, bleaker films? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between. Ray ...

At this year’s Oscar ceremony, there was a name you may not have recognised amongst the prestigious Best Actress nominees. Of course, everyone knows the likes of Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep. But who was that other lady? You know, the un-famous one? Well, that would have been Frozen River star Melissa Leo; a veteran character actress finally hitting the big time. Starring as a no-nonsense poverty stricken single-mother, Leo became the breakout indie starlet of 2008. Writer/director Courtney Hunt also picked up a Best Original Screenplay nomination for her troubles. But did this little known Sundance winner deserve its accolades, or did it simply ride the Academy’s recent obsession with smaller, bleaker films? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between.

Ray Eddy (Leo) works part time at the local dollar store in Upstate New York, right next to the Mohawk reservation. Her gambling-addict husband has run out on Ray and their two kids a week before Christmas, taking with him the money intended for their new home. Their TV payments are short, and are facing repossession. The only food left in the house are popcorn and tang, and are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So obviously, times are tough.

Ray has a run in with a short-sighted Mohawk woman named Lila (Misty Upham). The two quarrel over the ownership of Ray’s husband’s abandoned car, and then find themselves in business together. Lila, with her own money troubles, needs the car to smuggle Chinese immigrants across the Mohawk reservation into New York. However, a white women needs to drive to ensure they don’t attract police attention. Ray is apprehensive at first, but the $1000 paydays have their allure. There is just one catch – they must cross a frozen-over river to get the immigrants across the border. Needless to say, it’s not the most reliable path.

The most surprising thing about this movie is just how thrilling it is. Each time Ray and Lila cross the frozen river, the tension is palpable. Late in the film, Ray throws out the luggage of a Pakistani immigrant, fearing it might be terrorist supplies. When the contents of the bag are finally revealed, I guarantee your stomach will be in knots of dread. Hunt manages to wring every possible moment of anxiety from the viewer on a shoestring budget, simply keeping the camera on the faces of Leo and Upham as they carefully travel across the ice.

Leo’s performance is understated without being weak; Ray is hardened, desperate and relentless. However, there are moments of privacy in which she is vulnerable and afraid. This may be a long bow, but I found Ray Eddy to be much like Sarah Connor facing real-world problems. As yet, Judgement Day continues to elude humanity, so the economic crisis will have to do. The success of this film hinges on Leo's performance. She drags us into her world, whether we like it or not.

While I am reluctant to heap awards-worthy praise on Frozen River, I do appreciate what the film achieves. We are given a glimpse of worlds we rarely see in cinema – families who live in extreme poverty, native-Americans in today’s society and the plight of illegal immigrants. At just over an hour and a half, the film covers a lot of ground. However, the film is particularly grim. It's tough to love, albeit easy to admire. Frozen River is bleak and uncompromising – and that's just how the Academy likes it.

3.5/5

Check out Simon's other reviews here.

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Member Reviews (26)

Margaret
says
I liked this movie but not over enthused but watchable.
Posted Thursday, 5 September 2013 See my other reviews
Definitely worth a look, this movie. Good to see Charlie McDermott in a movie role-I like him in "the Middle" (sitcom TV). A movie fraught with sadness but able to inform this viewer of the world of people smuggling in an unexpected location. For a very low budget production, it succeeds with flying colours.
Posted Wednesday, 4 September 2013 See my other reviews
chrisreeves
says
Well i just could not get into this. The ending is good but its just too slow and too dark the whole movie as in it is set at night time nearly every shot and very depressing actually
Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 See my other reviews
Toni
says
The bleak landscape is matched by the bleak lives of the main characters. A different kind of movie about relationships and the need for belonging and a home. An interesting story .
Posted Thursday, 19 July 2012 See my other reviews
Bron
says
An excellent little American movie, highly recommended. Excellent acting all round, very realistic, minimal violence, tugs at the heartstrings.
Posted Sunday, 24 June 2012 See my other reviews
Friday girl
says
Oh I so wanted it to be like another Fargo with the frozen wonderland vista's etc... But no. Still good for an afternoon on the couch.
Posted Monday, 9 April 2012 See my other reviews
juliekym
says
A really good realistic movie with realistic people playing the roles. No Hollywood dramatisation and unrealistic actors. I really enjoyed with one.
Posted Friday, 24 February 2012 See my other reviews
Doris
says
Didnt think I would like this movie but it has a good story line and keeps you interested.
Posted Saturday, 17 December 2011 See my other reviews
Min
says
A Beautifully told story with really strong character development, and a true emotional journey for characters and viewers alike. The film depicts the life of single mum Eddy, who, due to lack of money, is lured into the world of illegal people-smuggling. Her struggles are paralleled with those of immigrants and mohican single mother Lila. The film explores their different attempts at surviving difficult circumstances and protecting their families.
Posted Wednesday, 30 November 2011 See my other reviews
alistair c
says
Well worth watching. Nothing earth shattering but good story. Maybe bit simplistic.
Posted Thursday, 8 September 2011 See my other reviews
Jen
says
Brilliant acting. Melissa Leo is amazing, totally unselfconscious when filmed from the most unflattering angles.
Posted Saturday, 6 August 2011 See my other reviews
Mary
says
For an American movie of this genre very good - the casting was brilliant! My husband thought it was "just a movie" and I thought they could have built the tension a bit more but I enjoyed it nevertheless. We should see more of Melissa Leo - an excellent actress who did a terrific job as did everybody else in the movie.
Posted Thursday, 4 August 2011 See my other reviews
Bruce
says
Nice little low budget surprise. Pleasure to watch a simple story told and acted well.
Posted Monday, 18 July 2011 See my other reviews
MLV
says
A gem
Posted Thursday, 7 July 2011 See my other reviews
kimbo
says
Takes place in the days before Christmas near a little-known border crossing on the Mohawk reservation between New York State and Quebec. Here, the lure of fast money from smuggling presents a daily challenge to single moms who would otherwise be earning minimum wage. Two women - one white, one Mohawk, both single mothers faced with desperate circumstances - are drawn into the world of border smuggling across the frozen water of the St. Lawrence River. Ray and Lila - and a New York State Trooper as opponent in an evolving cat-and-mouse game.
Posted Wednesday, 2 March 2011 See my other reviews
AH
says
gritty, interesting and well acted
Posted Wednesday, 22 December 2010 See my other reviews
mss
says
good acting but totally predictable plot, which let it down for me
Posted Tuesday, 5 October 2010 See my other reviews
Philip
says
I enjoyed this movie. Interesting story line.
Posted Wednesday, 28 April 2010 See my other reviews
Bart E.
says
A very interseting story that seemed very real
Posted Thursday, 11 March 2010 See my other reviews
yeo44
says
a very enjoyable movie,actors portrayed their parts very well, and the theme of the story was very realistic, shows how people can go to the extreme to servive
Posted Tuesday, 29 September 2009 See my other reviews
Anne M.
says
I wrote a review for Frozen River a couple of days ago - are you editing it OR rejecting it?
Posted Thursday, 10 September 2009 See my other reviews
Anne M.
says
At first this seemed to have the makings of a film 'made for TV' but it really delivered, and stayed with me long after it was finished. The bare bones are - single mum, two children, husband a gambling addict who had just left them (for the nth time). The older boy, was excellent in the quite pivitol, yet smallish part that he played. The story kept 'value-adding' - and included our learning more about a native american woman. Both the women in the film (the mum and the native american) were deperately poor, in money and emotional health, but, by chance, were able to help each other at probably the worst moments of their lives.
Posted Tuesday, 8 September 2009 See my other reviews
Sunet N.
says
A little gem that could have come from Europe and was a real surprise to me. A realistic drama from the US, we don't get such everyday. Very nice effort indeed and enjoyed it very much. Not to miss. I don't give 4 stars to all movies I watch, trust me.
Posted Monday, 7 September 2009 See my other reviews
Arthur S.
says
Profoundly depressing but well-acted drama dealing with poverty, single motherhood, race relations, illegal immigration and acts of desperation.
Posted Wednesday, 19 August 2009 See my other reviews
William C.
says
Great acting by a cast you've never heard of, gripping and tense storyline - striking setting. Any movie from the US that can do that
Posted Wednesday, 12 August 2009 See my other reviews
Bernadette B.
says
Somewhat simple but quite gripping story with fantastic acting by all.
Posted Sunday, 2 August 2009 See my other reviews